Hard Bargains and Precarious Paradoxes: Livelihoods, Governance & Development Discourse in Jinja Uganda s Informal Sector



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Development practitioners have made increasing use of participatory policy designs in response to rising pressure to incorporate local and community-based involvement in poverty alleviation interventions. At the same time the informal, unregulated sector has become a significant aspect of poor peoples livelihood strategies in rapidly growing cities around the world. People engaged in the informal sector are often involved in illegal activities. As a result of illegitimate status these stakeholders frequently find themselves marginalized from access to government protections including participation in formal decision-making processes. Participatory development policies have more recently come into greater contact with people in the informal sector with unclear results, spurring a debate regarding the benefits of legalizing informal sector activities and the efficacy of participatory planning. This paper focuses on the implementation of two participatory policies targeting people engaged in the informal sector. I examine how the formalization of open-air urban markets and Uganda s 2004 Fisheries Resources Policy have impacted the livelihoods and political agency of stakeholders in Jinja s informal sectors. Although the formalization of open-air markets emphasizes legalization of informal sector activities and the Fisheries Resources Policy underscores the criminalization of informal fishing activities, both policies offer a similarly hard bargain. Market vendors and fishers in Jinja described to me how these participatory policies required individuals to give up control of their own productive resources in order to access legitimate status and a voice in formal democratic decision-making processes. These avenues to participation have not been popular; vendors and fishers preferred to remain involved in informal and/or illegal livelihood activities even if it meant increased marginalization from the formal democratic system and/or police harassment. While the cost of participation is giving up ownership of productive resources to large-scale private interests, the informal sector offers greater control of resources which allows greater community re-investment and flexible responses to unpredictable market conditions. Many of the vendors and fishers I spoke with ultimately expressed a desire to engage in the formal democratic system if more supportive government regulation were made part of the bargain. Note: (Research for this paper was conducted during May, June and July of 2009 and was funded by the Wilma J. Pugh Award and the Department of History at Mount Holyoke College.)



Informal economy, Participatory policy, Uganda, History, Jinja